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An Ohio state court must decide whether Admiral Insurance Co. has to provide coverage to a company whose clothing products allegedly caused cancer in firefighters and their spouses, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.
Medina, Ohio-based Fire-Dex LLC, which is facing an array of lawsuits over the firefighter clothing it manufactures, asked Admiral to defend or indemnify it, according to Tuesday’s ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati in Admiral Insurance Co. v. Fire-Dex LLC.
The ruling noted that the case is a “small part of a developing national story,” with plaintiffs charging that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, which are used in manufacturing firefighting products, are linked to certain kinds of cancer.
Admiral denied Fire-Dex coverage, citing exclusions in its policy, primarily an occupational disease exclusion policy rider. It then filed suit in U.S. District Court in Cleveland, seeking a declaratory judgment it was not obligated to provide coverage.
The district court refused to exercise jurisdiction over Admiral’s complaint and was affirmed by a three-judge appeals court panel.
“Admiral’s suit would encroach upon state jurisdiction (in this case, Ohio’s),” the ruling said.
The district court correctly held that “Ohio courts have yet to answer questions tied to insurance liability for PFAS manufacturing” and that “those matters are best resolved by an Ohio court in the first instance,” it said.
“States, it bears reminding, are the masters of their own law, subject to certain constitutional and statutory restraints,” the panel said in affirming the lower court.
Attorneys in the case did not respond to requests for comment.
Earlier this month, chemical makers Chemours Co., DuPont de Nemours Inc. and Corteva Inc. said they would set up a $1.19 billion fund to settle PFAS-related drinking water claims in the United States.